“Andy...”

So many consecutive days of pain and fear, and now this.

Relief.

Power.

“Andy...”

Violet safe. Sweet Violet.

“Andy...”

And rage.

“Andy...”

“Yes, Luther?”

I put my hands on the cart and rolled it across the floor toward the gurney I had strapped him to several hours prior.

“Andy, please, listen to me.”

I flipped the power switch and his chair began to hum.

“I’m listening.”

It went on for two days.

I never stopped, never slept.

I burned him, stretched him, froze him, cut him.

I did everything but kill him, and not once did he beg me to stop. I wanted to hear it—the abject terror in his voice that I’m sure he’d heard in mine and countless others—but all he ever did was scream.

With each infliction of pain, I thought about what he’d done to me. To Violet, her husband, and son. To Beth Lancing. To his victims—the ones I knew about and those I didn’t.

I took a flashlight with me and followed the stairs that led from the warehouse down several flights into a basement.

Just exploring.

In search of Luther’s store of food and water, and of course, more drugs.

My light passing over old cinderblock.

Cobwebs amassed in the corners and there was rat shit everywhere, and occasionally the lightbeam would strike upon a pair of glowing eyes that would instantly vanish, followed by the soft scrape of rat feet scrambling off into the dark.

Fifty feet in, I stopped.

There was a noise coming from behind a door at the end of the hall.

I hurried down the corridor and pulled it open.

Shock.

Disbelief.

Never had expected to find this, and I stood speechless in the threshold, waiting for the mirage to evaporate, but it never did.

The room was tiny—an old janitor’s closet.

Against the back wall stood a crib, where two babies, one of them Max, lay crying at the top of their lungs.

I cleaned them up.

Changed their diapers.

Fed them from jars of baby food on hand and then held one in each arm, rocking and hushing them until they’d fallen asleep.

It was three in the morning when I pulled Luther’s van back up to the hospital’s emergency room entrance. The babies slept side-by-side on cushions in the same cardboard box which I’d jammed down between the front seats.

It was too cold and rainy to risk leaving them outside, so I carried the box through the automatic doors into the ER, and walked over to the sitting area where four people waited to be seen—a couple with a colicky infant and a young man who reeked of booze holding a bloody tee-shirt that had been wrapped around his left hand.

I said to them, “You might tell the nurse that a man just dropped off two babies, and that the mother of the little boy is a patient in this hospital.”

They stared at me, bleary-eyed, skeptical.

I set the cardboard box on the magazine table, started for the exit, and as the automatic doors slid open, I heard the mother of the colicky infant say, “Oh my God.”

I drove back.

Feeling so strange.

So anxious to return to Luther.

As the windshield wipers whipped back and forth and the van sped through the puddled streets, I kept trying to imagine Violet’s and Max’s reunion.

When she woke, the nurses would be there.

They would ask her if she had a son.

She would say yes, why?

They would ask her for the boy’s name and a physical description, and when Vi provided this, they would bring Max, now swaddled up in blankets, into her room.

And Violet would burst into tears.

Still in so much pain, but regardless she would sit up in bed, straining against the tubes and needles carrying medicine into her body, and reach out her arms to her son.

And when she looked down at Max, her tears would star his little cheeks and she’d touch his face and whisper, Mommy’s here, little man. Mommy’s here.

I ran through this scene several times, each one more emotional than the last.

More touching.

Violet happier.

The nurses crying.

Even a hardened doctor tearing up.

Mother and child together at last, on their way to a complete recovery.

But no matter how many times I played the moment in my mind, nothing changed.

I couldn’t feel a thing.

I only wanted to get back to the warehouse.

Back to Luther.

And all those beautiful things I could do to him.

It was on that second day that something switched. The rage and power had tasted good up until now, but on that second day, they became irresistible. Took on the ecstatic, bottomless property of addiction.

I felt joy at the sound of his screams.

Comfort at the sight of his blood running down the wood or boiling on the electrodes.

And there was no longer rage in what I did, only sadness.

It had crept in but was now expanding, filling my lungs like a deep breath of oxygen, and I knew why it was there.

One simple fact.

Eventually...this was going to end.

Luther was going to run out of blood and screams and die.

After forty-eight hours, in the midst of trying to bring Luther back to consciousness with a packet of smelling salts, I collapsed…

Revived on the concrete floor, no idea how long I’d been out.

I sat up and yawned, struggling onto my feet.

Luther was still unconscious.

I stood there looking down at what I’d done to him, trying to feel something.

For a moment, I wondered if he’d died, and this prompted only a remote sadness that I wouldn’t hear him in full voice again.

It was like sunlight, that intense emotion.

Something to counteract the emptiness.

I could imagine craving it.

I wanted to rouse him, but I was beyond exhaustion.

I left him to sleep and wandered through the warehouse until I found something resembling a place to sleep—the backseat of a minivan or station wagon, still in its plastic covering.

I curled up on the cushions and shut my eyes.

Wondering, as sleep descended, what I had become.

Orson and I are back at his cabin in the desert, only everything is different. We’re one. So linked we don’t have to speak. Every word, every emotion exchanged by thought.

We’re walking across the desert at sunset, no sound but the impact of our boots crunching against the hardpan. I’m doing all the talking—all the thinking. Telling him that I finally understand, that I’m sorry. Everything he put me through, he did out of love. I know this now. He knew me before I knew myself. He tried to show me and I threw it back in his face.

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